Affordability is a crucial component of the college search process. With college tuition costs skyrocketing and many students planning to pursue postgraduate studies, most students are wise to consider a variety of ways to economize their undergraduate education. Weighing financial aid options and navigating the process is complex and can require a strategic focus. Having a knowledgeable counselor to inform families of the various factors and pros/cons of different approaches will prove very useful.
Key points to keep in mind:
Key points to keep in mind:
- The "sticker price" is often reduced by financial aid and/or negotiation. Even if your child won't qualify for needs-based aid, he or she could stand a chance of receiving merit aid awards. Don't eliminate schools from a college list based solely on stated price.
- By the same token, be realistic about odds of being awarded aid. If a school is a "reach school" (the student's grades/test scores are in the bottom 25% of the applicant pool or lower), admission is unlikely to come with merit aid because that student is not a top-tier applicant for that school. If a student's grades/scores put him or her in the top 10% of the applicant pool (and even better in the top 1-5%), that student is much more likely to receive merit-based financial aid from that institution.
- Consider whether a school typically offers merit aid. The Ivy League schools for example do not offer merit aid, though they may offer some grant aid to students whose family income is less than $250,000 per year. So if your student wants to aim for admission to an Ivy League school, families should be aware that they may not be entitled to much (or any) reduction from the sticker price in the form of merit aid scholarships/grants. Managing expectations is important in this scenario.
- Be aware that "public schools are always cheaper than private schools" is a myth in terms of college admissions. Private schools often have larger endowments and resources available to use in financial aid packages, and the bottom line cost of attendance at a private college may well be cheaper than the public state school alternative. Keep in mind that when evaluating the overall cost of a degree from institutions, you will want to consider the percentage of students completing a degree in 4 years (vs 5 years or 6 years). Four years at a higher-priced private institution may still be a better deal than five or six years at a more modestly-priced large state school.
- Creating a College List with affordability objectives in mind:
- Apply to at least 2 safety schools, preferably safety schools that are in-state, low-cost options
- The so-called T20 ("Top 20") schools offer almost no merit aid. Include no more than 2 of those schools on your list under the "just to see what happens" theory unless finances are not an issue for you or your family. While you may be admitted, odds are very high that your admissions offer will not be paired with any relief from the high sticker price
- Work with us or on your own to estimate your chances for merit aid awards and apply to at least 3-4 safety or target schools where you stand a good shot at being awarded enough merit aid to bring the overall cost in line with state schools
- Actively consider schools that offer solid merit aid, especially those schools that have a transparent award matrix or otherwise detail how merit aid is awarded. Don't apply if you are otherwise completely uninterested in a school that might give you merit aid, but do research all the schools where you stand a good chance of receiving merit aid